It really doesn’t get any better than this: one of my sisters in religious life and the Franciscan Order, Sr. Pat Farrell, OSF, the current President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) interviewed on one of my favorite NPR programs, Fresh Air with Terry Gross. By now I’m sure many of you have already heard the interview or seen highlights in print. I have to say that this was one of the best responses to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)’s “doctrinal assessment” of the LCWR I’ve seen, well heard, yet. Oftentimes soft-spoken, careful about how she responds in answering Terry Gross’s challenging but insightful questions, Sr. Pat skillfully and respectfully conveys the challenges and suffering that the LCWR faces in the midst of this confusing CDF action.

I think it’s extremely important to emphasize the care and respect used by Sr. Pat in responding to questions about which there is surely more emotion and pain latently present than can be immediately seen. Terry Gross notes this partway through the interview and observes that Sr. Pat appears to be in pain discussing some of the questions, mostly because of the faithful struggle she and other women religious are engaged in to maintain communion with the church and still be rational, critically engaged, and loving human beings, a task that seems impossible to balance at times given the current ecclesiastical and cultural contexts.

I’ve read a few critical comments about her interview, but these have come exclusively from online commentators and self-identified “conservative Catholic” blogs. The vast majority of reputable news outlets, Catholic and secular, have praised Sr. Pat’s pose and response on Fresh Air. I join this laudatory group in expressing my admiration and support of Sr. Pat’s efforts to respond to the CDF and the LCWR’s critics. As more information is made public about the LCWR and about the CDF’s report (as well as who was initially behind the “doctrinal assessment,” two US bishops for instance), it is becoming abundantly clear that this might have been an egregious mistake and that at least many, if not all, of the criticisms are grounded in proof-texts and contextless materials that ostensibly serve to support a presupposed judgement rather than a genuinely objective assessment. Perhaps this is not entirely the case, but I have yet to see evidence to the contrary (for an interesting take on the psychology behind the assessment, see Dr. Kathy Galleher’s op-ed piece, “Psychologist: Bishops’ Lashing Out at Sisters is a Distraction“). The LCWR’s response to each of the CDF’s concerns so far seems very reasonably grounded and understandable.

The fundamental question that the sisters are asking now is, “how is this ‘doctrinal assessment’ a genuine call to dialogue?” The adversarial tone and the distorting presentation of quotes and other materials seems to suggest otherwise. I hope a real dialogue can emerge, but it will require that those in the CDF also be willing to admit their errors inasmuch as they expect the sisters to do likewise on certain terms, if necessary.

To read excerpts from the interview or listen to the whole program (39mins) streaming online, go to Fresh Air with Terry Gross and hear for yourself.

UPDATE: Here is an insightful and personal reflection by a US Religious Sister on the CDF’s “doctrinal assessment” of the LCWR over at Commonweal Magazine.

Photo: CNS


    1. Thanks, Kevin — I did not see that, I appreciate the head’s up. It’s (for a change) good news on two fronts (1) B16’s strong affirmation of the prophetic stance of the Church in the world — which is 100% in line with the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign against unjust budget proposals; and (2) The theology of Bonaventure and St. Francis is again hailed!

      I hope this second point continues to be a theme of B16’s agenda in recent months, my next book: Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith: Exploring Franciscan Spirituality and Theology in the Modern World is do out early this Fall by Tau Publishing includes a lengthy final chapter on Benedict XVI’s “Franciscan Theology.” Rock on!

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